Diseases and Disorders

Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are serious conditions that can have long-lasting effects on both physical and mental health. An eating disorder is an unhealthy pattern of eating or exercising that causes weight loss or gain. Learn about the different types of eating disorders and how they affect people.

What is an eating disorder?

‘I can binge-eat pizza all day’ or ‘You have lost so much weight, you look anorexic!’ – haven’t we heard these comments often or are even guilty of passing them? Eating disorders may be treated casually, but they can be as serious as any other ailment. They comprise a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Eating disorders are often neglected as a state of mind, but they may actually be related to depression, anxiety, and emotional instability.

They can have long-term health consequences if left untreated. Some of the most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder which can cause extreme emotional upheaval, uncontrollable attitude, and aggressive behaviour.

Eating disorders types

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1. Anorexia

People suffering from anorexia live under the constant fear of gaining weight when they actually are underweight. They diet relentlessly to a point of starvation. Their distorted body image makes them believe they are overweight or are constantly putting on weight. Some of them may also become obsessive about counting calories and portion control. If not treated in time, anorexia may lead to organ failure and malnutrition. 

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms

1. Dramatic weight loss. Anorexics are usually underweight.
2. Obsessed with dieting and counting calories
3. Skipping meals regularly
4. Refusal to eat certain foods, such as carbs or fats
5. Exercising excessively
6. Worrying about being “fat”, intense fear of weight gain
7. Disturbed menstrual cycle
8  Frequent constipation or stomach ache
9. Low self-esteem linked to body image

2. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by behaviour that compensates for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics. Victims of bulimia may live under the intense fear of weight gain and suffer from body image issues. They are ashamed of their weight. The binge-eating and purging routine is typically followed in secret, creating feelings of shame, guilt, and lack of control.

Since bulimics usually hide their characteristic behavior, it is difficult to spot the disorder early. If left untreated, bulimia can manifest in long-term health problems like abnormal heart rhythms, bleeding from the esophagus because of excessive reflux of stomach acid and also dental and kidney problems.

Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms

1. Binge-eating at fixed intervals
2. The urge to purge excessive food intake by forced vomiting or consuming diuretics
3. Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others, or eating tiny portions in public
4. Exercising aggressively 
5. Attempts to hide the body in loose clothes 
6. Constantly complaining about being “fat”

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Most of us use the term ‘binge eating’ casually for indulging in our favourite delights to our heart’s content. Sadly, it can also be a serious eating disorder. Binge-eating disorder is one of the most common disorders in the world and is often linked with depression and poor mental health. Victims indulge in emotional eating as it relieves them from stress and disturbing self-image issues.

You may feel you can’t stop eating, and you needn’t be even hungry to eat. You feel guilty about eating and go back to eating again to feel better and use food as a reward for yourself. This way, you may be trapped in a vicious cycle. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting.

As a result, people with binge-eating disorder are often overweight.  In the long-run, binge-eating may lead to heart diseases, poor blood circulation, diabetes, kidney and liver dysfunction and joint pains because of excessive weight. According to Macrobiotic Nutritionist, “Binge-eating could stem from boredom or an emotional trigger, which compels you to munch something. It becomes a habit because you are getting pleasure out of it. You are most likely to pick comfort foods that could be high carb, high sodium, or high in sugar. These are very satisfying and so you keep reaching out for them. You get a sense of relief after consuming them.”

Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder

1. You eat much more food than you would on normal occasions
2. You feel guilty and depressed about eating so much
3. You feel helpless and out of control at the thought of limiting your food intake
4. You eat really fast – at a pace which may not be normal
5. You indulge in bingeing at least once a week for about 3 months on an average
6. Social withdrawal from friends and family
7. You have to eat even when you are not hungry, almost to a state of discomfort
8. Try to eat alone so no one sees you eating

4. Pica syndrome

There are many eating disorders, namely binge eating, anorexia, bulimia nervosa and one disorder that caught our attention is Pica syndrome, the eating disorder that is not about food. Surprised, are you surprised? Let us explain. A person suffering from Pica basically craves for odd and inedible objects. A person with Pica syndrome may crave for anything from coins, and clothes to chalk and even cigarette butts. It may be a rare eating disorder but definitely dangerous, as the cravings can include anything that is inedible. Hard to imagine eating or chewing on such things, right?

The strange eating disorder apparently got its name from the Latin word for ‘magpie’, a bird that feeds on just about anything. According to the National Library of Medicine, this non-food craving disorder is found in 10 percent to 32 percent of kids aged between one and six. These youngsters can eat paint, string, hair, plaster or chalks. Teens and adults crave for plastic, erasers, ice, fingernails, paper, coal, chalk, wood, needles and even wires!

Symptoms of Pica syndrome

Symptoms of pica syndrome may primarily depend on what is being ingested. These substances may contain toxic chemicals or bacteria that can harm your health. Once consumed, these substances can easily damage your gastrointestinal tract, resulting in bowel problems like ulcerations, perforations or others. Other than this, a person with this eating disorder may also have disturbed eating behaviours along with extreme concerns about weight, eating, body shape, and overall health.

Are only kids susceptible to this eating disorder?

While it may mostly be seen in kids, it can also affect adults. It can become potentially life threatening considering the amount of inedible objects one must have digested before the disorder is diagnosed. However, early diagnosis and intervention may reduce the severity of this eating disorder. It is, therefore, imperative to see a doctor at the earliest.

Pica syndrome complications
  • Bowel problems like obstruction in the intestinal area caused by ingested items, severe ulcers and others
  • A severe blockage in the intestinal area that may inhibit the passing through of food and water, leading to other health problems.
  • Intestinal perforation, which can be caused by ingestion of inedible items, creating a hole in the walls of the stomach, bowels or intestines.
  • Infections by ingesting non-food items that may carry bacteria, germs, and dirt.
  • Poisoning caused by heavy metals and other toxic substances. Sometimes, it can turn fatal too.

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Eating Disorder Treatment

First, accept that there is a problem. In most cases, people suffering from eating disorders are too embarrassed, life in denial or simply unaware of the severity of their condition to seek help. An eating disorder is not just a matter of a dietary fix but a psychological condition that requires psychiatric intervention and lifestyle changes. If the victim is in denial, people around them must remind him or her of the severe consequences. An eating disorder is treatable as long as you acknowledge the condition and open up to your counselor, psychiatrist, and nutrition expert.

A comprehensive treatment specializing in eating disorders is often fundamental in recovery, which cannot be successful if you aren’t honest with your counselor or dietician. Doctors may prescribe medication to help manage the urge to starve or binge. A dietician may chart out a customized daily diet plan to help you deal with the symptoms. Yoga and meditation can also take your focus away from negative thoughts and help in building a positive body image.

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